economic.development.growthThis is the third article of a four-part series entitled Why Local Governments Fail at Economic Development.  The first article addressed how local government officials “fail to define and sell their unique sizzle” – the things that make their community great and the things that set them apart from other communities – things that will lure new businesses into considering their community.  The second article focused on “Loose Lips” or the fact that so many local public officials don’t understand the economic development process.  Many officials believe “the negotiations process” with a prospective employer is part of the open meeting process.  They can’t wait to share incomplete and inaccurate information with their constituents, the press and the public.  The inability of local public officials to keep their mouths shut sabotages so many well-intended economic development efforts.

This article will focus on the third reason local governments fail to attract economic development – “the lack of a plan.”  Ask almost any local government official, ‘What type of economic development would you like to see in your community?’ and most will provide one of two answers.  Those answers are: “makes no difference – anything to get our economy moving” or “some type of good-paying manufacturer.”  Both answers indicate the official doesn’t have a clue as to what economic development is and reveals that no real plan exists for initiating any economic development.

Here’s another fun exercise:  Ask a local public official, ‘What type of economic development would be best for your community?’  Most will be dumbfounded at the question.  It’s like you are asking a trick question.  Eventually they may tell you they want economic development that will pay good wages.  Oh really!  Would they want a toxic waste site in their community?  Of course not.  Would they want a strip of gentlemen clubs within the community?  Of course not.  Would they want an open pit mining operation in the area?  Of course not.

The primary reason most communities don’t have a plan for economic development is because their local public officials never take the time to sit down and seriously discuss what their community is actually best suited for.  A few communities have and wow look at the results they generated!  Have you ever heard of Silicon Valley in California or Nashville, Tennessee?  Have you ever heard of Dallas, Texas, or Hollywood, California?  Have you ever heard of Orlando, Florida, or Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin?  Have you ever heard of Las Vegas, Nevada or Branson, Missouri?  Have you ever heard of Atlantic City, New Jersey, or Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia?  Do you think these communities relied on haphazard economic development?  Do you think new businesses and major employers just showed up one day and opened up shop?

Each of these communities had effective local public officials who took the time to develop a plan.  They decided what types of businesses they wanted.  They saw what was working in their communities and they made it easy for similar types of industries to move in.  They knew the businesses they wanted to pursue and they adapted and adopted their community resources to make them visible and accessible to potential employers who fit their plan’s profile.  With a clear vision of what they wanted for their community, they were able to pursue prospects that maximized their economic development efforts.

When local governments fail to plan for economic development, they set themselves up for failure.  Let me illustrate.  Though I am not an avid sportsman, I have many colleagues and friends who are.  Every one of them who plans to go white tail deer hunting packs differently for their hunt than those who plan to go opossum hunting or wild hog hunting.  Fishermen who want to catch brook trout plan their trip differently than those fishermen who want to catch bass or catfish.

When local governments fail to plan for economic development, everyone in the community suffers.  The economic development authority staffs have no idea what their target is.  Community residents miss out on opportunities and existing businesses are limited in their potential growth.  Failing to create a plan for economic development is the third major reason local governments fail at local economic development.

If your community is struggling to achieve economic development, by all means create a plan – it’s so damn simple Have any questions or disagree?  Want more great ideas your local government can use then visit Gabe Gabrielson and order a copy of Pearls of Wisdom … the Unofficial Guide for Public Officials.

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